It’s always difficult when your vision doesn’t translate to reality the way you hope it will. This is what Lika deals with in artist and author Lawrence Lindell’s delightful Blackward. Lika and her pals Lala, Tony, and Amor (they/them) have a club called The Section, “a group for Black folx who a little bit ‘other’”. They want to attract newcomers and establish a community for Black people who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere else. Lika’s vision is a safe space that celebrates differences, but it’s hard to get the word out and it’s discouraging to face down the trolls. As the leader of The Section, Lika relies upon the mentorship of bookstore owner Mr. Marcus and the support of Lala, Tony, and Amor to realize her vision. It’s wonderful to see how The Section succeeds despite obstacles.
Blackward is full of heart. Lindell offers serious themes alongside a playful sense of humor. The bold color palette and dynamic cartoon style make every page pop. The book brings up concepts such as acceptance versus judgment; inclusion versus othering; individual struggles, teamwork, and community-building; being Black and queer; and even just being Black and different. The terrific sense of humor sparkles in interactions between the elder Mr. Marcus and the four young friends, Amor’s revulsion towards children, and the over-the-top White ally who gets it all wrong.
The art is pure fun. From the first pages that depict each character’s house and bedroom in a bright rainbow of hues, I looked forward to a joyful reading experience. Black, toothy speech bubbles chomp into Lala’s dialogue when a toxic instigator interrupts her. On date night, Lindell illustrates the characters getting ready as a silhouetted superhero transformation. The lettering also changes to suit the tone of the panel, using color, style, and positioning to accentuate various moods. Each chapter opens with a word in four different languages. For example, Community, Comunidad, Jumiya, and Communauté are in English, Spanish, Swahili, and French respectively, and the colors of the words correspond to Lika, Amor, Tony, and Lala.
I highly recommend Blackward for all public libraries. Anyone who has felt like a misfit will appreciate it, though I think it will resonate most deeply with Black nerds. Put this book in the hands of older teens and adults who love cartoony art and relish being their quirky and authentic selves.
By Lawrence Lindell
Drawn & Quarterly, 2023
Publisher Age Range: 14+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Black
Character Representation: Black, Bisexual, Queer, Nonbinary, ADHD, Anxiety, Depression